Asteroid impacts on the Moon millions of years ago match large space rock impacts here on Earth – including the massive impact that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs.
The discovery reveals that major impacts during Earth’s prehistory were not isolated events. Instead, these asteroid strikes were accompanied by a series of smaller hits both here and on the moonwhose surface is littered with more than 9,000 craters left by space rock impacts.
Research could help astronomers better understand interior dynamics solar system and help calculate the likelihood of our planet being hit by potentially devastating massive space rocks in the future.
Related: Hunting for asteroid impacts on the Moon intensifies with a new observatory
Scientists from the Space Science and Technology Center (SSTC) at Curtin University in Australia obtained the results by studying microscopic glass beads in samples of lunar soil returned to Earth by China Chang’e-5 lunar mission in 2020.
These tiny glass beads were created by the intense heat and pressure generated by meteor impacts. This means that researchers can piece together a timeline of lunar bombardment by estimating the age of these pearls.
In doing so, the SSTC team found that the timing and frequency of asteroid impacts on the moon were mirrored by space rock strikes on Earth, meaning the timeline the team built could also provide insight into how our planet has evolved.
“We combined a wide range of microscopic analytical techniques, numerical modeling and geological investigations to determine how and when these microscopic moon glass beads formed,” said the study’s lead author, Alexander Nemchin, a professor at SSTC, in a statement.
The age of some of the lunar glass beads indicates that they were created around 66 million years ago, around the time the dinosaur killer asteroidknown as the Chicxulub impactor, struck Earth in what is now the Gulf of Mexico, near Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
The impact led to what is known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which eventually killed off three-quarters of all life on Earth, including non-avian dinosaurs.
The roughly 6.2-mile-wide (10-kilometer) Chicxulub impactor struck Earth at about 12 miles per second (19.3 kilometers per second), or 43,200 mph (69,524 km/h), leaving a impact crater measuring approximately 93 miles (150 km) wide and 12 miles (19 km) deep. In addition to the shock waves generated by the initial impact, the asteroid impact caused a series of earth-shattering effects, including throwing up thick clouds of dust that blocked out the sun.
The new SSTC research joins other work suggesting that this dinosaur-killing monster space rock may have been joined by other smaller asteroids that also hit Earth and could be revealed by studying the impact history of Earth. asteroids on the Moon.
“The study also found that large impact events on Earth, such as the Chicxulub crater 66 million years ago, could have been accompanied by a number of smaller impacts,” said Nemchin. “If correct, this suggests that age-frequency distributions of impacts on the Moon could provide valuable information about impacts on Earth or the inner solar system.”
The team now aims to compare the data collected from lunar soil samples from Chang’e-5 with other soil samples from the moon and with the age of craters across the lunar surface. This analysis could reveal other impact events across the moon and, in turn, help uncover signs of asteroid impacts here on Earth that may have affected life.
The research was published Wednesday, September 28 in the journal Scientists progress.
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